MobileIron is working on an 'Open App Alliance' for mobile app management interoperability.

In the last couple of weeks we've published several articles discussing the idea of standards for mobile app management (MAM). It turns out that MobileIron has been thinking about MAM standards as well-recently Noah Wasmer, VP of product management, and Ojas Rege, VP of strategy, reached out to share information about an initiative called the Open App Alliance.

In the last couple of weeks we’ve published several articles discussing the idea of standards for mobile app management (MAM). It turns out that MobileIron has been thinking about MAM standards as well—recently Noah Wasmer, VP of product management, and Ojas Rege, VP of strategy, reached out to share information about an initiative called the Open App Alliance. There haven’t been any formal announcements about the program yet, but they are ready to start talking about it publicly. Here’s everything we know so far.

Why do we need MAM standards?

Before we look at the Open App Alliance, let’s do a recap of how mobile app management standards could be beneficial to the industry.

First, why the need for MAM? There have been tremendous improvements in management since iOS and Android were first introduced. However with few exceptions, there’s no way for mobile operating systems or mobile device management (MDM) technology to keep corporate and personal apps and data separated. Instead, we turn to application-level controls, through MAM. Using MAM, admins can ensure that personal and corporate apps remain appropriately isolated from each other, and that restrictive security policies only affect sensitive corporate apps.

A developer building an app can incorporate these management features by using an SDK or app wrapping tool provided by a MAM vendor, and some MAM vendors are encouraging ISVs to create publically-available apps that incorporate management features. The problem is that there are a dozen or two different MAM vendors, and none of their management protocols or apps are compatible with each other.

Because of this, all sorts of issues begin to emerge. If an ISV wants to sell an app with MAM capabilities, how do they choose which protocol to use? Do they have to create multiple editions of their app to be compatible with different MAM vendors? And there are problems for IT, too. What if you want to manage an app, but it’s not compatible with your MAM solution? Do you pick your MAM solution based on compatible apps, or based on other criteria? The MAM industry is completely fragmented, and this could cause some people to be hesitant about adopting it.

One way this situation could be resolved is if standards for MAM were to emerge. Regardless of whether the standards are formal or informal, there would be benefits for all parties involved: 

  • End-users could have a wide selection of IT-approved choices for common tasks like corporate email clients or browsers.
  • ISVs would only have to develop one version of each app, knowing that it could be managed by a variety of different MAM products, and thus more marketable.
  • Corporate IT departments can implement MAM solutions knowing that they won’t be locked into a small set of apps.
  • MAM vendors will be able to boast a wider number of compatible apps.

The Open App Alliance

The Open App Alliance is an effort by MobileIron to make MAM standards a reality. There’s a lot of work that goes into this, and right now they’re at the beginning stages, creating a charter and gathering members. The one important part about this is that membership and use of the standards will be completely free and open.

As for what other vendors are involved, there won’t be any announcements for another four or five weeks. In my conversation with Ojas at MobileIron, he mentioned that they’ve been recruiting a wide variety of organizations, both in their community and in other communities. In other words, we just have to wait for the formal announcement to see if any big-name ISVs or enterprise mobility management vendors are involved.

The next step will be to work out technical specifications, but again they’re not sharing any details right now. However, looking at the features that are common to just about all MAM vendors, it’s not too hard to guess where the Open App Alliance could start.

Will it take?

Even though we don’t have many details yet, I think it’s hard to argue that MAM standards could be anything other than beneficial to the industry. Assuming the specifications are robust and easy to implement, any effort here reduces fragmentation in the MAM industry, even if a limited number of ISVs and MAM vendors participate.

While there are many examples of failed technology standardization efforts, there have been many successes, as well, especially in the consumer space. It’s not too much of a stretch to make a comparison here—in this case, both end users and corporate IT departments are the consumers of products that come from the MAM industry and ISVs. On another note, MobileIron’s co-founder, Ajay Mishra, was a part of the WiFi Alliance, which we can agree was pretty successful, too.

It’s too early to know what will the end result will be, but the idea of the Open App Alliance is a big step for the industry. Hopefully it will be a win for a lot of people, and kudos to MobileIron for getting it started.

 

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IMHO this faces several challenges.


Time to market. If it takes several years to get meaningful traction it won't matter. There's not even a decent open source MDM distribution let alone standards. MAM is an early market with tiny revenue currently. So it doesn't feel like there is much incentive for people to contribute to standards as many vendors are fighting to leverage wrapping and associated services as a point of differentiation. If this was an open source effort then a stronger argument could be made WRT to incentive, but it's not based on the article.


How does anybody make money? If the strategy here is to have a standard dictate the pace of the market and opportunities for differentiation to generate profits is not clear. I just think it will be ignored or other's will simply create their own standards or open source their wrapping libraries for all to use. Better would be for the OS vendors to add the features to the operating systems and then let differentiation and value be created on top. I just find it hard to take a vendor with a lot to gain standard seriously if I was still in the business of competing with them.


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The value (and money) is on managing Apps, Data and devices from the server side, not on the client.


A cross-vendor/cross-OS standard spec would make it easier for ISV to implement their mobile apps in a way that can be managed by different EMM vendors.


Starting early would actually help the cause.


- Vittorio


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Fascinating that no one is even talking about either OMA-DM or TR-069 standards.  Probably should be...


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